Some five months after vandals torched a cross at St. Teresa cemetery north of Elmira, the centrepiece structure is now standing tall and looking as good as new.
“I think they did an excellent job – it’s a work of art what they did. We’re well pleased with it. Those guys from Menno S. Martin did a good job,” said Elmira resident John Basler, the man who built the cross more than two years ago.
“When the cross was burned, there were quite a few people from different denominations who came to me … and they said how they felt about it, [saying] if there was anything they could do to help, they were willing to lend a hand.”
Last December, the cross almost burned down due to an act of vandalism. Fortunately, cold and wet weather prevailed, helping to quell a gasoline fire that could have razed the entire structure. Passersby who noticed the blaze on Dec. 6 promptly notified police and firefighters. By the time they arrived, the fire was virtually extinguished.
It appears that the arsonists wrapped rags doused in gasoline around the cross; the cap of a gasoline canister was found on scene.
At first it was expected that the monument would have to be replaced, making for a laborious and expensive procedure as the cross stands 4.8 metres (16 feet) tall, 2.3 metres (7.5 feet) wide and is embedded in 1.4 metres (4.5 feet) of concrete; an additional 1.2 metres (four feet) of concrete secure the cross above the surface of the ground. However, a second assessment revealed that the cross could be salvaged because the fire hadn’t burned beyond the outer pine casing.
The cross included a pine timber centre with a white pine exterior. As a result, the restoration process turned out to be rather complicated as the white pine exterior was fixed to the inner timber. Basler was wary that the wood might splinter and carpenters Ron Burdett and Dave Rupp were bracing themselves for a complicated project.
“It wasn’t that bad, really. I thought it would be a real problem but it worked out OK, really,” said Burdett.
“I thought it might have been glued to the six-by-six posts, but it wasn’t – it was just glued together around the outside of it, so, it wasn’t so bad.”
It all worked out in the end as Burdett and Rupp were able to successfully peel the outer layer and add a new pine casing.
Just as the community rallied to build the cross more than two years ago, it pulled together this spring to repair the damaged structure.
“I have got some phone calls already since the cross has been restored to say ‘hey, it looks good,’” said Basler.